Chapter 0: Le Chat Sans Merci

Upon arriving at headquarters, my eyes bloodshot and my nose raw from yesterday’s investigations, I was greeted by an excited Mittens, his whole body still charged from the previous day’s catnip binge. He said, “I am ready to solve the case, my friend. We must gather everyone. Vite. Vite.”1

We spent the morning requesting that all of the suspects meet us at Trouble’s apartment at 1 p.m. sharp. To my amazement they all agreed, even Trouble.

We set off for the appointed meeting on foot. Mittens brought with him a black, wheeled suitcase, which he dragged behind him. Because he used his right paw to lead the suitcase, he had to walk on two hind paws, which gave him an unsteady, almost drunken gait. The thought of asking what he was bringing briefly crossed by mind, but I assumed it was some sort of prop to make the upcoming encounter more dramatic, so didn’t bother. Two other officers accompanied us: a Jack Russell and an Italian Greyhound. Between them they carried the purloined box. While Mittens and the toy dogs proceeded with their tiny, burdened steps, I loped ahead.

Although I still had not been allowed by Mittens to read the coroner’s report, I was certain that Fitch’s severed hind leg was the instrumental cause of Tulip’s death; I was equally certain that neither Fitch nor Bull was the murderer, the former because he was too beta, the latter because he was too alpha.

With two suspects down, that left Euphemia and Trouble. They had acted like conspirators yesterday, rushing away the moment they saw me. What might appear as an action provoked by a guilty mind, on reflection seemed less so. Guilty animals stand their ground, and lie; it was the innocent who got confused and acted impulsively. Despite her actions last night, was Euphemia simply ashamed to be seen with her sister’s lover so soon after Tulip had been murdered? That seemed likely to me.

And what about Trouble? I was as unconvinced of his guilt as ever. I never believed this untamed tom would use a weapon to murder the dam he’d dumped but still loved.

In my mind’s eye I recalled the angle of the gash on Tulip’s throat.

Tulip hadn’t been murdered. She had killed herself.

We arrived at our appointment at precisely 1 p.m. Euphemia, Bull and Fitch were there, but not Trouble.

Trouble’s absence did not perplex Mittens. The Cat Detective removed a pawful of treats from his satchel, and methodically laid them in a line from the fire escape to the floor where we had gathered. He then removed a can opener from his satchel, and went through the motions of using it. The bait worked. First we heard a meow. Then two more meows. Trouble appeared on the window ledge that opened out onto the fire escape. He sniffed the air a couple of times, and then leaped to the branch where the first treat lay. He gobbled up that treat, and the entire string of them, until he found himself enveloped by our society.

Mittens called the meeting to order. “Let us begin with the murder weapon.” He removed Fitch’s left hind leg from the purloined box. The leg had been mounted on a thin stick of mahogany wood; sharp claws poked out of a bloody mass of white fur around the paw. He dramatically pointed the leg at Bull as he said, “Did you kill Tulip using this heinous weapon?”

Bull was unperturbed by the question. He barked, “No.”

“Non, indeed.” Mittens said. “You had no motive, did you? Tulip was a valuable business partner, and les chiens sonts loyal en affaires.”2
Having already solved the case to my satisfaction, I found Mittens’ histrionics tiresome. I scampered over to the small floor-box that Trouble had rested in yesterday, and settled down. My ears were drooping and my eyes were heavy with fatigue.

The Cat Detective now turned dramatically to Fitch. “Is this your leg?”

Fitch looked at Bull, and then nodded yes.

“Did you kill Tulip?”, Mittens continued,

Fitch, once again taking a cue from Bull, nodded no.

“Mais, non.” Mittens echoed dramatically. “Of course you did not kill Tulip. Fitch is a loyal dog; you do what Bull tells you to do. Why would Bull tell you to kill Tulip?”

Mittens sniffed loudly, no doubt inhaling a stray piece of catnip that was stuck on a whisker, and then continued, “And now to the prime suspect, Trouble”.
The Cat Detective leaped to the wheel suitcase he had dragged with him from Headquarters. His sudden movement startled the toy dogs, and captured my attention.

Mittens’ removed a heavy object from the suitcase with a thump. What exactly he was doing was obscured by his large, furry body. He turned suddenly and exclaimed, “maintenant la vérité sera révélée”3 I leaped up in astonishment. Mittens was holding a vacuum nozzle in his right paw, as if it was a six-shooter.

Québécois, Canadian and international law speaks with one voice about the few situations in which pawed mammals can be exposed to vacuum cleaners without their consent; this situation, a police interrogation, was certainly not one of them. Mittens was one flick of a finger away from a trip to the International Court of Justice at the Hague.

I looked at Mittens’ eyes. There was no sign of madness in them. If anything, his manner was that of a chemistry professor preparing to add vinegar to bicarbonate of soda: loopy, but fun. I realized that what I was witnessing was not madness at all, but sanity – sanity so extreme it allowed Mittens’ neo-cortex to defy a limbic system that must have been screaming for him to drop the vacuum nozzle and hide.

Euphemia had backed off into a corner, where she was now burying herself under a rug; Bull and Fitch had retreated too, but in a more dignified manner. The Jack Russell and the Italian Greyhound had both disappeared entirely. That’s what happens when you ask toys to do an alpha’s work.4 Only Trouble stood his ground. I briefly wondered if he was as crazy-sane as Mittens, but thought not. Domesticated cats anticipate; ferals react. Trouble would explode the instant the vacuum cleaner was turned on.

Although Mittens was in theory my partner, I knew it was my duty to disarm him immediately. The last thing Canada needed was a scandal about some feline rock star being threatened by a cop in the presence of an Upper Canadian dog who did nothing.

Mittens moved slowly toward Trouble. The feral inched backward, his nails making deep cuts into the floor as he did so. I crawled forward on my belly at a tangent to them both.

I was a step and a pounce away from Mittens. He knew how close I was. Without looking at me he said “Barks, don’t do anything rash. I’m just about to put the vacuum cleaner away. My little experiment is over. I have learned what I need to know. Regardez.5 He carefully put the vacuum cleaner nozzle down. For one second after he did so the vacuum cleaner roared. A startled Trouble sprang toward the nearest wall. For a long moment he hung there, held up only by his fangs and claws, and then slowly slid to the floor.

Our stunned silence was broken by a relaxed Mittens, who said. “Excusez moi.6 There must be something wrong with the vacuum’s power switch. De rien.7” He shrugged and then proudly walked over to the fang marks that Trouble had made on the wall. He turned to face us and said to us with a little bow, “Regardez bien.8 These marks are the same as the ones found on Tulip’s neck.”

I was outraged: Mittens could not possibly reach this conclusion without a detailed forensic analysis. The Maestro was not finished. Mittens turned to face Trouble, who was now grooming himself solipsistically, and said, “Did you kill Tulip?”

The feral finished licking his hair, which had become spiked from fright, back into place before he answered. Trouble’s reply surprised me, “Yes, I did kill Tulip. In a way.” He spoke with the straightforward innocence of a feral. “That’s right. I killed her, but so did La Belle Dam. We did it together. With Tulip’s help.”

Mittens was visibly off-put. His intention was to exonerate Trouble. He said. “But Monsieur Trouble, you didn’t murder Tulip by tearing her carotid artery with your fangs, did you?”

“Non, non. I killed her when I told her that I was going to sleep rough from now on; when I told her that La Belle Dam had won. Tulip said if I went feral she could not live any more. That is what she said to me: I can not live any more.” Trouble shrugged. “But what could I do? I am feral.” Trouble glanced at Euphemia, and then hopped onto the window sill. Euphemia followed his leap with wide, watery eyes.

Trouble now sat on the window-ledge beside the back fire escape. He was ready to leave us at any time. Indeed, his alien manner indicated that he had long since departed. I turned my gaze to Euphemia. She realized how stark her options really were. Although she styled herself as the wild-cat classics scholar who got what she wanted, there is a gap between domestication and ferality as wide – or as narrow – as the ledge on which Trouble perched. On the other side of that gap everything is different. There is certainly no time for scholarship, for scholarship requires a sense of history, and ferals are creatures of the present.

I could write about the play of emotions on Euphemia’s muzzle, but the tear that was forming in her right eye told me one emotion was dominant: regret, not at what should have been but what could not be. A domesticated feral is a paradox. We can stalk such impossibilities, and experience a thrill when we think we’ve captured one, but the impossible always eludes us.

I thought then about Tulip, with her lioness ears. How difficult the decision not to go feral must have been for her, for she thought her affectation of wildness could encompass all the world, which eliminated the need for her to make a choice. The world is harder than that. Certainly we can modify animal made-boundaries like national borders and laws, just as we can trim our ears and put spots on our fur. We cannot change the boundaries that arise from what we are.

The tear that had been trying to wrest itself out of Euphemia’s right eye finally succeeded: it fell as two drops onto her whiskers just as Trouble, without a backward glance, leaped over the window-ledge and disappeared into a shadow.

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